In the long history of Marvel Comics, most characters have come into contact with at least dozens, if not hundreds, of writers and artists. They are a collection of vast influences ranging from a singular issue to titanic multi-year runs. When considering the essence of a single hero (or villain) it becomes clear that some creators had a larger impact than others. In celebration of the Black Panther movie, we are looking at the essential Black Panther creators. These are the comics artisans who have left an indelible mark on T’Challa, Wakanda, and his immense supporting cast. You can see their influence both on the movie and across Marvel Comics today. Black Panther would not be the character we love without their contributions and their comics provide the best path to understanding this incredible hero.
Here we take a look at the creator with the longest and arguably most influential run on Black Panther to date: Christopher Priest.
Christopher Priest entered comics in the late '70s as an intern, then editor, at Marvel Comics. He began writing for the publisher in 1983 and worked on series like The Falcon and Power Man and Iron Fist. Priest began moving between publishers, touching properties like Green Lantern, Conan, and Deadpool, as well as co-creating Quantum and Woody at Valiant Comics. He helped to plan the creation of Milestone Media, a company published and distributed by DC Comics focused on creating a more diverse superhero landscape. While Priest was originally planned to be the company’s editor-in-chief, he was forced to leave for personal reasons, but would continue to write comics. He introduced a new volume of Black Panther at Marvel Comics in 1998 and would write a total of 60 issues as well as the spinoff The Crew. After more than a decade away from comics, Priest recently returned with the launch of DC Comics’ Rebirth line where he writes both Deathstroke and Justice League.
What Priest Added
Priest redefined the nation of Wakanda and the mythos of the Black Panther within his first story “The Client.” While it remains a beloved story for its own sake, the most lasting contributions would be a veritable deluge of new characters and institutions. Priest introduced the Dora Milaje (translated to “adored ones”) in Black Panther #1, a team of women who serve the ceremonial role of wives-in-waiting and the very real role of special forces. Their training and skills are second only to that of the Black Panther, often placing them at the center of action in Wakanda for years to come. The only team from Priest’s work to rival the Dora Milaje would be The Crew, a collection of Marvel Comics’ most prominent black superheroes who have continued to make appearances in their own series as well as one another’s.
The first arc also introduced Zuri and Everett K. Ross to Black Panther’s world. Zuri was added retroactively as a loyal lieutenant to T’Chaka who still serves as a bodyguard and advisor. Ross was designated as the United States liaison to Black Panther and has become one of the character’s most trusted friends and a favorite source of comic relief. The final major character addition came in the form of Hunter. He was T’Chaka’s “other son,” an orphaned white child who the king chose to adopt. Hunter was raised with similar training to the Black Panther and became the White Wolf, leader of the deadly Wakandan secret police known as the Hatut Zeraze or “Dogs of War.”
Priest reinforced the conception of Wakanda as a unique cultural and technological locale throughout his run. It began with a revolution that displaced the Panther before returning him as king of Wakanda by Black Panther #12 and subsequently exploring the politics of the nation. The tensions between rural tribes and city dwellers that first appeared in Don McGregor’s “Panther’s Rage” were clarified. Wakanda’s relationships with other important Marvel nation-states, like Latveria and Atlantis, were emphasized. Priest also emphasized the religion of the Panther within Wakanda, going so far as to introduce the Panther god Bast as a very real deity who watches over the souls of previous kings. This kingdom of the dead has remained a key element of the comics, becoming an important element in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers.
Why It Matters
There’s a reason that Priest’s run on Black Panther is widely considered to be the greatest of all time. He took the most valuable elements from prior creators, like Kirby and McGregor, and refined them into a definitive vision of who the Black Panther is at Marvel Comics. Priest recognized that there is no one key element to T’Challa. He is a king and a scientist and a humanitarian and a superhero. It is the of these roles that make him such an impressive figure as he strives to be all things for his people. The role of monarch brought the most stress within Priest’s comics and revealed Black Panther to be the most honorable man in superhero comics. Given impossible choices between individual tragedies and the weight of an entire nation, Black Panther was the leader who always found the right decision, often at great personal expense. Over the course of about 60 issues, Priest made Black Panther one of the truly great heroes of the genre.
The third volume of Black Panther also showed readers and creators alike the flexibility of Black Panther as a character. Stories included street-level mysteries, supernatural showdowns, and massive international conspiracies. Black Panther’s versatility as a character is shown via the wide range of settings and tones within the stories, which often packed as much humor as they did action. Additions like the Dora Milaje and Everett K. Ross filled out this notion and offered a supporting cast as diverse as any other superhero book might contain.
Perhaps the single most important contribution by Christopher Priest was removing the notion that Black Panther was only Marvel Comics’ “black superhero.” Each of his stories expanded the character’s identity, supporting cast, and importance within superhero comics. Priest envisioned Black Panther as one of superhero comics’ leading men, someone who should be considered on the same list as Superman and Spider-Man. Almost 20 years after his run ended, it appears that has finally become a reality on a global scale.
The Complete Black Panther by Christopher Priest
Black Panther (vol. 3) #1-56, 59-62
Deadpool (vol. 1) #44
The Incredible Hulk (vol. 3) #33
The Crew #1-7
Everett K. Ross: Ka-Zar #17
Dora Milaje: Black Panther (vol. 3) #1
Zuri: Black Panther (vol. 3) #1
White Wolf (Hunter): Black Panther (vol. 3) #4
White Tiger (Kasper Cole): Black Panther (vol. 3) #50